Welcome to Spain. If this holiday to Spain is your first, be aware that the country is hard to get out of your blood after you’ve visited once. You may plan to come for a long week spent relaxing on a Spanish beach, or you may plan to tour all the big cities by foot. Before you know it though, you’ll be hooked on the culture of this country where local fiestas are enjoyed in every small town and happiness is pervasive whether you head to the mountains, the coast or anywhere in between.
There are architectural wonders, impressive landscapes, and unbeatable gastronomical options that eventually will make you reach the conclusion many before have: Spain is not one country but many. Each region has its own traditions, governments and ways of life that are reflected in the language, culture, food and social attitudes. People in each region will attest to the fact that their region is the best you can find in Spain, and you’ll have to agree with each and every one of them. Prepare to be surprised by the diversity, kindness and immense joy for life and celebration that Spain has to offer visitors.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a region of Spain that has its own history, language and character. The city vibrates with life and there isn't another spot in Spain that has the same energy or style as Barcelona. It features mind-blowing architecture like the unbelievable Segrada Familia church, and first-class art museums surrounded by posh restaurants, shops, and bars to serve any need that may arise. The attractions within the city could keep you busy for weeks as you explore the architecture and other entertainment available, but keep in mind there are sandy beaches and mountains just outside it as well, so if you visit the city, be sure to plan a day trip or two to see them during your stay.
Located in the heart of Iberia, Spain's capital of Madrid has been the political, economic and cultural centre of the country since its appointment in 1561. Directly in the centre of Spain, Madrid today is a modern city with four million people calling it home—and that population is still growing. Unlike other spots in Spain and in Europe in general, Madrid is not about the attractions and historical monuments—it's about getting into the lifestyle and culture of the city's inhabitants. Relax in summer terrazas, explore city markets and stay up late to start the party in thousands of bars, clubs and more to truly understand what Madrid is about.
Andalucia is the southernmost territory in Spain and is responsible for famous Spanish imagery like bullfighting, flamenco dancing and ruined castles. This quintessential part of the country is also home to a majority of the Moorish monuments that have been preserved extraordinarily well. Check out Granada's Alhambra Palace for a perfect example of the incredible architecture found in this part of Spain. There is a vibrant metropolis full of attractions for tourists, but not to be forgotten are the smaller Renaissance towns where you'll get the best feel for Andalucia's unending beauty. Andalucia is Spain at its most exuberant where wild and extravagant characteristics of Spanish culture really do exist and can be experienced.
You have probably seen photos of this towering example of Spanish architecture more than once. It's a hard image to forget once you've seen it. Nothing will prepare you for seeing the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia which takes up an entire city block and has become a symbol of city. Locals take great pride in the history and symbolism in the church's construction and architect, Antoni Gaudi. There are eight towers at the Sagrada Familia, and to see them at close quarters, buy an entrance ticket and then take one of the separate elevators that run up facades. Your entrance ticket will also give you access to the museum, which traces the career of Gaudi and the complete history of the church.
The origin of this fantastic Nasrid palace, one of the greatest masterpieces of Arab art in the world, dates back to a simple fortress built in the ninth century and called 'Alhambra', meaning 'The Red', the colour of the material used in its construction. Nowadays, The Alhambra is more than a just a palace; it is an entire walled city within the city of Granada. There are royal apartments, forts, gardens, pavilions and barracks—all this surrounded by an impressive wall. You can buy tickets to get into the grounds and explore it on your own or with a guided tour.
The Plaza de Santa Ana is a lively square in the centre of historic Madrid and is known as the literary heart of the city. Appropriately so, there are plenty of cafes and bars where people can relax and take in the square. It was laid out in the early 19th century and was named after the 16th century Santa Ana convent which was taken down to create the square. When you visit, try going to Cerveceria Alemana which has been frequented by artists and writers ever since it opened in 1904, including Ernest Hemingway who was a regular in his days.
La Tomatina is a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Bunol near Valencia in Spain. In what has been unofficially dubbed the world's largest food fight, people come together to chuck tomatoes at each other. This incredibly messy festival is gaining popularity, and is definitely something you do not want to miss. La Tomatina is normally held at the end of August each year, so make sure to book your flights accordingly.
Depending on what you plan to do in Spain, it is a year-round destination. May, June and September are the ideal months to visit when you can rely on consistent and excellent weather, avoid extreme heat and a crush of tourists. Some parts of Spain have decent weather for the entire year like cities along the south and southeast Mediterranean coasts.
No jabs are needed for Spain and generally it is a very safe country. Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. Barcelona has a very high incidence of passport theft. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.
If you're feeling inspired to head out to Spain, we don't blame you. It's a country full of life, fun and joy in the day to day celebrations. Before you leave, be sure to consider an international travel insurance plan from Cover-More Australia to ensure your holiday, health and investments are protected by a travel insurance policy.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Moyan Brenn